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Showing posts with label John Wesley Sermons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Wesley Sermons. Show all posts

Monday, October 24, 2016

Christian Extremism (AKA Zeal)

Introduction
             This blog was inspired by John Wesley’s 1781 sermon titled “On Zeal”. John Wesley founded the Methodist movement to restore passion and zeal to the Anglican Church, which had become dull and lazy. Wesley was passionate about God’s Kingdom and urged Christians to serve with passion and zeal. God’s Kingdom was to be their first priority in life and they were to serve with their whole hearts.
             It is impossible to experience any real spiritual progress in your life without considerable commitment and zeal. Furthermore, it is impossible to make a lasting difference in our community without passionate commitment. Yet, religious zeal scares many people—perhaps for good reason. We have seen the evil acts “religious nuts” have perpetrated in the name of God.
            Critics of the early Methodist movement in England considered Wesley’s teachings and religious devotion too radical and extreme. To the apathetic church leaders of the day, Wesley and his followers were dangerous fanatics.
            Perhaps you have known someone you considered a religious fanatic—someone who was too radical in their religion, a real "Jesus freak". My Grandma loved Jesus and she loved the church.  As a kid, me and my siblings used to joke that you didn't want to bring up the subject of religion around Grandma.  You didn't want to get her started on that subject because she wouldn't stop talking about it.  We thought she was a fanatic.  We were fine with religion, just in moderation.  We thought Grandma should be more like us and tone it down a bit.  Funny thing is, now that I am more mature, I embody much of the same passion for Jesus I once scorned in my Grandma.  I'm sure there are many people who think I should "tone it down a bit."  (Someone once told me a good definition of a fanatic. “A fanatic is someone who is more committed than you are.”)  We always think we've got religion in just the right dose.  Maybe we need to consider if we need to have a little more religious zeal.
            There are different kinds of religious fanaticism—some are healthy and some very dangerous. Religious extremism of the wrong sort can lead to horrific violence and terrorism. Is there a still a place for religious zeal in our age? Is there such a thing as healthy Christian extremism? What is the difference between a good and evil religious fanatic?
            Perhaps the Apostle Paul is the best example of the wrong and right ways to be a extremely devoted to God. Before he became a Christian, Paul was an extremely zealous Pharisee. His misguided passion led him on a crusade to destroy Christianity. Graciously, Jesus appeared to Paul and set him on the right path. Paul became as zealous for Jesus as he had once been against him. Paul’s passionate work as a Christian missionary eventually got him in trouble with the religious authorities. He was arrested and put on trial and ultimately gave his life for Christ. In Acts 22, Paul is on trial as a Christian extremist.  

Acts 22:3-4
Then Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison.

Paul Was a Religious Extremist
            Here we see Paul testifying how his religious zeal before he became a Christian led him to persecute Christians. Yet after Paul became a Christian, his religious zeal swung completely the opposite way.  He didn't lose his zeal or become lazy; he became an extremist for God's love in Christ.
            Before he was a Christian, Paul sought to destroy anyone he felt insulted, disobeyed, dishonored, or lied about God or threatened the Jewish religion. Paul was a religious extremist, but his misguided zeal motivated him to do evil and not good. He thought loving God meant destroying people who disagreed with him about God. One must be very careful with extreme devotion to religion. It can lead to the most horrible acts—as Paul showed in his early life.
            Thankfully, God changed Paul’s life and he learned the right way to serve God. In 2 Corinthians 12:15, Paul reveals his new attitude towards people for the sake of Christ. He said, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for you.” As a Christian, Paul was even more extreme in his devotion to God, but his new core value was love. Paul was willing to sacrifice his own comfort, reputation, even his life for the sake of saving as many souls as possible.
            We, also, must learn the right way to serve God—with our whole hearts as Christian fanatics of love, committed to the Kingdom, willing to put our lives on the line for the sake of love.
But is it possible to tell the difference between good and evil Christian extremism? It is and John Wesley’s instructions on the matter may be the best advice on the subject.

Christian Zeal
            John Wesley said, “...Christian zeal is all love. It is nothing else. The love of God and man fills up its whole nature.” This is what the great Christian hymn tells us, based on the Gospel of John: “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love! Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Christians are by definition, Love Extremist. For it was extreme love that led Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. It was the extreme love of the martyrs that led them to risk their lives for the sake of a lost world who needed to hear the Gospel of Christ. And it is extreme love that leads Christians to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

What is the nature of the extreme love we show?
            The Christian extremist is full of humility. We count others as better than ourselves. We willing surrender our rights for the sake of others.
            The Christian extremist is full of gentleness. We are careful with other's feelings. We gently woo them to Christ.
            The Christian extremist is full of patience. We are long suffering, drawing our patience from the eternal well of God’s love.
            Moreover, the Christian extremist doesn’t just have flashes of all these traits. The true Christian extremist is steadfast, showing these traits in all seasons.

Strengthening Christian Virtues
            Do not fret if you lack these characteristics in you in the measure you want. You can strengthen them within you.
            Strengthen them with Christian practices. The more you pray, the more you read your Bible, the more you worship Jesus in church, the more you receive Holy Communion, and meet with other Christians for fellowship and accountability, the more God will strengthen the characteristics of love within you.
            Strengthen them with Christian service. The more serve God and the people around you, the more you offer charity in our community in the name of Jesus, the more you seek to love your fellow man, the more you will exercise and strengthen your humility, gentleness, patience, and love.
These are the ways to strengthen God’s love within you and become the kind of Christian fanatic that Jesus wants you to be. 

The Priorities of the Christian Extremist
             Let’s look at some of the ways Christian zeal is expressed and consider which ways are most important.
            First of all, a Christian extremist will be zealous for the church. I hope one of your top priorities in life is to come to church. Come for worship. Come for study. Come for fellowship. Come for opportunities to serve. Commit to miss no more than 5 Sundays a year. Support the church with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness. If you are truly a Christian, you should have a deep, abiding love for the church. You will want to be here more than anywhere else. Your desire to be present for church should be near the very top of your commitments in life—above sports, above travel, above recreation, above friendships, above politics. A Christian fanatic, a true Jesus freak, loves the church.
            However, the Christian extremist has an even higher priority than attending church. A Christian fanatic is even more passionate about the teachings of Christ than the church in general. For Christ gave us the church, Holy Communion, baptism, the songs of our faith, and the traditions of the church. Since it is Christ we worship when we gather here, the Christian extremist is more devoted to what Jesus said and did than to the church itself.
            But there is more! A Christian extremist who is a fanatic follower of Christ, should be even more zealous to serve in Jesus name—for the Jesus said, “I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.” (Matthew 9:13). Whenever one interferes with the other, acts of mercy are to be preferred above coming to church and even Bible study.
            However, as zealous as Christian extremists are for good works, we should be even more passionate about Christian virtues—humility, gentleness, patience, contentment, submission to God—for these are the attitudes that lead us to serve God and humanity, and serve in the right way at the right time for the right reasons.
            The greatest zeal of all is reserved for the most important Christian virtue—love. This is something the Apostle Paul finally discovered when he became a Christian extremist. He said in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 – “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” 
            
Taking Back the Word Extremist
            Perhaps you are still afraid of the idea of a Christian extremist.  Isn't it too dangerous?  No it isn't and I think Christians should take back the word from evil people who have kidnapped extremism.  True Christian extremism, rooted in love, rejects all forms of evil.
            If true Christian extremism is extreme love, then it rejects every kind and degree of hatred and bitterness. A Christian fanatic refuses to retaliate, but rather loves his enemies and prays for those who curse him.
            If Christian extremism be nothing more than sacrificial, wholehearted love of God and humanity, then it will never have anything to do with prejudice or jealousy or any form of bigotry, racism or xenophobia. Persecuting or mistreating others in any way—even in the name of God—is totally inconsistent with Christian zeal. It is not Christianity at all, let alone Christian extremism.
            If humility is a chief trait of Christian zeal, pride is utterly incompatible with it. The Christian extremist will gladly have their pride hurt for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom.
            Moreover, the Christian extremist cannot be both gentle and angry. And we must be careful of any so-called “Christian” whose chief characteristic is anger. Yes, anger is part of the human experience and sometimes serves a useful purpose to energize us, but the truly zealous Christian will be one who is known for love and not anger. Love is the motivating factor that energizes and excites us. Even anger about a world that has turned its back on God will only be a minor footnote in the life of a Christian extremist. The Christian extremist will devote themselves to gentleness, patience, and love and any anger they feel will be fleeting, dissolving quickly in the far superior attitude of grace.
            Brothers and sisters, it is time for us to take back the term extremist from those misguided people who try to use it but do not know God or His Kingdom.  Let us become so in love with Christ that we show the world what a Christian extremist is really like.  It is the only way to know God and change the world with His love.

Invitation
            Search your heart and discover your own attitude. Are you like the Anglican church John Wesley sought to revive? Is your faith dull and lifeless, lazy and uninspiring? Are you just going through the motions and not really growing spiritually or making any real difference in your family, your community, or your world? Perhaps today, Jesus is challenging you to get serious about your faith.
            Are you like Paul before he became a Christian? Is your religion full of the wrong kind of passion? Is your religious zeal motivated by anger when it should be motivated by love of God and your fellow man? Is your zeal all about following the rules or trying to impress God when it should be about God’s grace and forgiveness? The greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Perhaps today, Jesus is challenging you to be born again—like Paul—so that you turn your passion to the right things.
            Are you a Christian who needs to go deeper, become more committed, be filled with passion for Jesus Christ? Perhaps today, Jesus is challenging you to look deep in your heart and reprioritize the elements of your faith so that love is the motivating factor for everything you do.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Loan from God

Introduction
            Well, my son, Gavin, started his classes at the University of Alabama Huntsville this week.  He said he likes his classes so far.  I'm so proud of him.  He's such a diligent student.  He earned a scholarship to pay all of his tuition.  However, it still cost somewhere between $12,000-15,000 a year for room and board and books and other expenses.  So, to encourage Gavin to take responsibility for his own life, we said we would pay roughly half of that expense and he could pay the other half.  Unfortunately, we had to get a "parent loan" to help pay the extra expense.  We are still paying our own student loans back from our college days!  By the time we get Gavin through college, we will have Grace in college; and when she finishes, there will be Abigail.  So I joked and told my wife, "We are going to be in a nursing home one day and still paying back our student loans and our kids.  And none of them is going to come visit us!"
            Well, this leads us into the topic of this blog which was inspired by a John Wesley sermon from 1768 called "The Good Steward."  In it, Wesley contrasted the difference between someone who is a debtor (who received a loan) and someone who is a steward (who is hired to manage another's affairs).

Luke 16:1-2
1Jesus told this story to his disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a manager handling his affairs. One day a report came that the manager was wasting his employer’s money. So the employer called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? Get your report in order, because you are going to be fired.’

Sermon Theme
            Someone who has a loan can do whatever they like with the money, so long as they pay the money back by the time it is due.  Someone who is a financial manager cannot do whatever they like with the money.  They are required to use the money exactly the way the Employer who hired them directs.  A Christian is one whose debts have been forgiven.  We are not debtors.  Oh how fortunate!  For we could never repay the debt we owe to God.  Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glorious standard of God."  And Romans 6:23 says, "For the consequences of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  Thankfully, our debt is paid by the blood of Jesus Christ when we place our faith in him!
            Jesus doesn't call his followers debtors.  One of the most frequent ways Jesus describes his followers is the term “steward.”  We don’t use the term steward as much these days.  Perhaps a more appropriate term for us would be “financial manager,” except that we manage far more than just finances in our Christian life.  So let’s use the term manager, as in the scripture I just read—Luke 16:1, “There was a certain rich man who had a manager handling his affairs…”

Steward/Manager
            First, let’s consider all the ways we are stewards (or managers) for God.  Again I must restate that we are managing far more than money.  And we are not at liberty to use the things God gives us to manage however we want.  We must use it all only the way God wants us to use it.  For to use it in any other way would be a crime against God.  So take seriously what God has given you to manage.
            God has entrusted you with a soul.  Your soul is an immortal spirit made in the image of God.  It encompasses your understanding, imagination, creativity, memory, and your will.  And from your soul spring such things as love and hate, joy and sorrow, your desires—including the desire to do good or evil—and your hopes and fears.  Now again, we are only managers of these.  God entrusts them to us to use—not so we can use them however we please, but—according to the express orders He has given us. (Of course, you will find that you are truly happiest when you use all these according to God’s will.)
            God gave us a mind.  So, we are to use our imagination and creativity, our understanding, our memory, our will all for the glory of God.  We are also to dedicate our emotions to God; we are to love what He loves and hate what He hates.  We are to rejoice and grieve, hope and fear, desire and shun all according to God’s holy purposes. Even our thoughts are not our own.  We cannot use them however we like.  No.  Even our mind is accountable to God.
            God has entrusted you with a body.  You are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14).  God gave you all your sense—sight, hearing, taste, etc.—not to use however you want, but these are on loan to be used specifically in ways God authorizes.  In the same way, God gave you the ability to speak.  He did so, not that you should speak whatever you like, but that you should speak His praises and use your voice to lead others to Christ.  God gave you hands and feet, not that you should go wherever and do whatever you pleased, but that you should work hard and faithfully to build God’s Kingdom.  For Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples…"
            God also gives us worldly goods:  food to eat, clothing to wear, a place to call home, and all the necessary conveniences of life.  In addition to all these, God puts money in our pockets, which can be such a powerful tool for God’s Kingdom if we are wise and faithful managers.
            Beyond all these, there is still more God entrust to us—strength, energy, health, time, our personality, our talents, our education, our reputation…  And perhaps the greatest of all that God entrust to us is His grace.  God saved us by His grace through Jesus Christ who paid the price for our sins.  What are we to do with this grace God extends to us? Are we to waste it?  Are we to go on sinning however we want because God has forgiven us anyway?  Absolutely not!  We are to use His grace responsibly, living our lives wholeheartedly for Him and offer the same grace to others.
            And I won’t neglect today specifically to point out that children are entrusted to us by God.  Regardless of whether they are our biological children, or adopted into our family, or even part of our church family, these kids are entrusted to us by God.  We are to care for them and do the very best we  can to nurture their faith in Jesus Christ.
            So of all these—the soul, the body, worldly goods, money, our children, and everything else—we are only managers.

Giving an Account
            We are not appointed as managers forever.  Our term in this role has a limit.  There is coming a time when we will no longer have any right to or authority over these things.  We will have to return them to the Lord.  Furthermore, we will have to explain to God how we used everything He gave us in this life.
            The time is not as far off as you think.  This life is so short.  Time goes by very fast.  One day, we are holding a baby in our arms; the next, we send them off to college; then, we find we are old and gray and only have a few years left to live.  (And this is only if we are fortunate, for many are not so fortunate and find their life cut off when they are still young or only in the middle of life—by cancer or an automobile accident or by some other tragedy that cuts life short.)  We never know how much time we really have, but we know it is always too short.  
            The time is fast approaching when we will have to stand before the Lord who entrusted all these things to our management and we will have to account—whether we used them the way we wanted or did we follow the Master’s instruction for their use?  God’s Word tells us in Hebrews 9:27, “…people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…”  
            What will you say when the Lord of all creation asks you:  “How did you use the soul I imparted to you?  Did you—to the best of your ability—use your understanding to know yourself and to know Me?  Did you apply it to understand My attributes, My nature, My will for you and the world?"
            God will inquire, “Did you use your memory to store up knowledge that would make you a better servant for the Kingdom?  Did you memorize My Word that you might know wisdom, truth, power, and mercy?”
            And God will ask, “Did you give your will totally over to Me?  Was it wholeheartedly swallowed up in My will so that you pray honestly in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?”
            He will inquire, “Did you love what I love?  Hate what I hate? Desire what I desire?  Did you dedicate your thoughts to what is “…true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable…”?” (Philippians 4:8)
            What will you reply when the God looks at you and asks:  “How did you use the body I entrusted to you?  Did you use your tongue to glorify Me? Were you a witness for My Son, Jesus?  Did you speak life into the people around you?  Or did you use your tongue for idle talk, useless conversation, gossip, slander, and maliciousness?"  And He will ask, “What did you do with the gifts of sight and hearing I gave you?  Did you use the gift of taste only to indulge yourself or to build up your body and make it strong to serve Me?  How did you use your hands and feet to serve?  Were you the hands and feet of Christ?”
            What will you say when the Master looks over your life and asks, “How did you use the worldly goods I put into your hands?  Did you use the food gave you only for selfish pleasure, or to guard your health and care for the body I gave you?  Did you use the clothing I gave you to satisfy pride and vanity or to glorify Me?  What about your home?  Was it used in a manner worthy of My glory?”
            And the Lord of all the universe will pierce you with His fiery eyes and ask, “How did you use the money I gave you?  Did you invest this money for My Kingdom?  Did you employ it to do good on the earth?  Did you spend this money to help those in need?  Did you follow my instructions and tithe to the church?  Or did you cheat Me and keep My money for yourself?  Did you embezzle the funds and use them for your own selfish purposes?  What did you do with My money?”
            There is coming a time—very soon—when you will have to give an account.  God will ask you, “Have you been a wise and faithful manager?  Or have you been lying, deceitful, and dishonest?”  How will you respond when you stand before The One who sees into your very soul and knows everything about you, The One from whom you can hide absolutely nothing and make no excuses?

Conclusion
            Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Romans 6:23, “The consequences of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  We have all fallen short of being wise and faithful managers.  However, the Good News is we can be forgiven through Jesus Christ.  Here’s what we all need to do:  1) Accept and confess that we have sinned.  2)  Repent of our sins (in other words, turn away from our sinful behavior and start obeying God.  3)  Let Jesus be our Lord and Savior—follow Him wholeheartedly from this day forward.
            How you use your time, talent, and treasure reveals what’s truly in your heart.  Won't you turn to God today, confess tour sins, repent, and commit to follow Jesus from this day forward.  Thus, you may come to the Day of judgment and stand before the Lord and hear him say,"Well done my good and faithful servant."